Not from a Wicked Heart: Testing the Assumptions of the Provocation Doctrine

27 Pages Posted: 28 Aug 2017 Last revised: 25 Sep 2018

See all articles by Carlton Patrick

Carlton Patrick

University of Central Florida

Debra Lieberman

University of Miami

Date Written: August 24, 2017


The normative logic of the provocation doctrine rests on the long-held, yet untested, assumption that anger can motivate people to act in ways which they believe are morally wrong. Here we provide a frontline inquiry into this premise in the context of the quintessential provocation scenario: a man witnessing or learning of his partner’s infidelity. Among men who had discovered a partner’s affair, anger was more strongly correlated with motivation to retaliate than with judgments as to whether such retaliation was morally acceptable. Moreover, anger explained increases in motivation beyond what could be accounted for by increases in moral judgments. However, these effects were not uniform to all behaviors: anger motivated retaliation beyond what participants thought was morally acceptable only for those acts salient to the function of anger in this context (yelling, pushing, and striking). Taken together, these results partially support the traditional assumptions of the provocation doctrine while calling other aspects of the doctrine’s normative framework into question.

Keywords: Criminal Law, Law and Psychology, Provocation, Heat of Passion, Evolutionary Psychology, Evolutionary Analysis in Law, Behavioral Biology, Morality

Suggested Citation

Patrick, Carlton and Lieberman, Debra, Not from a Wicked Heart: Testing the Assumptions of the Provocation Doctrine (August 24, 2017). Nevada Law Journal, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN:

Carlton Patrick (Contact Author)

University of Central Florida ( email )

4000 Central Florida Blvd
Orlando, FL 32816-1400
United States

Debra Lieberman

University of Miami ( email )

Coral Gables, FL 33124
United States

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